My Wîhowin (name)
by Emily Henry

In the traditions of my people, I share the story of my wîhowin. I am an nêhiyaw-iskwêw (Cree woman). I am an nôsisim (grandchild) of Okawimaw askiy (Mother Earth). I was born on the Ochapowace (one who recites from memory) an Nêhiyaw-Askîhkin (Cree nation) located in Kisiskatchewanisipi (Saskatchewan ‘fast flowing river’), in the country of Canada (Haudenosaunee word for ‘land’ or ‘settlement’). My father’s nêhiyawi (Cree) ancestry runs deeply within my veins; generations and generations of my ayisiyinowak (people) live in what became known as Treaty Four territory. I was born an skīciwinō (treaty) ayisiyinowak. My mother’s father was also from the nêhiyawi ayisiyinowak (Cree people); however, her mother’s ancestry is from the Apitaw-kosisān (Métis – Cree/French people) lineage. They traveled from the Red River to the Apitaw-kosisān Settlement of Marieval, which at one time lay nestled in the hills of the Ka tepwas (Qu’Appelle – it [the river] calls) valley. Ochapowace and Marieval lineage intertwined in the form of my mother and father’s union. My English name is Emily Jane Henry. I am the tepakohpwâw (seventh) child born to my parents; as such, my true wîhowin, my spirit wîhowin was revealed the moment I was formed within my mother’s womb. My spirit wîhowin is Kihci Têpakohp Iskotêw Iskwêw (Seven Sacred Fires Woman). My English names originate from two strong honoured lifegivers and family matriarchs: Emily of the nêhiyawi ayisiyinowak and Jane of the Apitaw-kosisān. Henry, my surname, represents resiliency. The mōnīyas (settlers) who could not pronounce our traditional names gave us English wîhowins so that they could pronounce them; in our resiliency, we made them our own. We shall wear our family wîhowin with honour for isko pîsim ta-sâkâsot, maskosiya ta-ohpikihki êkwa sîpîya ta-pimiciwahki (as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the rivers flow).

My Ancestors, Kākithaw niwākomākanak’s (All my Relations) resiliency helped shaped my destiny, my calling, my wîhowin. When my ayisiyinowak entered into treaty with the Crown, they could not know that it meant that their children would become prisoners in residential school. There was no way to predict that multigenerational impacts that laws created for assimilation would negatively impact generations of our ayisiyinowak’s lives. There was no way to predict that the treaties would lead to the loss of so many traditional wîhowins and that wîhowin’s would be replaced by mōnīyas’ surnames. We continue to carry proof of the broken treaties in the form of our iskonikanîwasinahikan (treaty/status cards), which represent our wîhowin in governmental identification numbers. In spite of our country’s dark past, it is with the honour of our wîhowins and our Ancestors that we, the nêhiyawi ayisiyinowak signed the treaty with sacred intention to commit to the agreements for isko pîsim ta-sâkâsot, maskosiya ta-ohpikihki êkwa sîpîya ta-pimiciwahki.

My wihowin is Kihci Têpakohp Iskotêw Iskwêw and I was destined to become a Sacred Firekeeper. I was born from resiliency. My wîhowin inspired my life purpose. Answering to the calling of wîhowin makes me an oskâpêyos (helper) for my ayisiyinowak. I was born to help light the mweciayinânew iskotêw (Eight Fire), the Spiritual Fire, so that our culture remains vibrant in the lives of our ayisiyinowak for isko pîsim ta-sâkâsot, maskosiya ta-ohpikihki êkwa sîpîya ta-pimiciwahki.

Kākithaw niwākomākanak,
Kihci Têpakohp Iskotêw Iskwêw

AUTHOR’S NOTE ON THE PHOTO: Here is a picture of my eyes, my ‘worldview,’ when I was 12…

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  ‘Wîhowin’ is inspired by my cultural traditions. Indigenous peoples are people of oral tradition. Our wîhowin tells our story. Our wîhowin also tells the story of our lineage, the story of our tribe, our community and our family. Our wîhowin speaks to how we exemplify the honour and dignity of our clan and the nation that we represent. We are people of relationship and kinship. As we participate in traditional ceremonies, we learn our spiritual connection to all of Creation. Our wîhowin speaks to our place in the great circle of Creation. I am “treaty” person. My Ancestors entered into treaty with the Crown. The words “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the rivers flow” represent the treaty’s timeline that the Crown said that they would honour the treaties.  Instead the treaties and the laws that they inspired ravaged generations of our people’s lives, as we became wards of the Crown. In effort to keep track of us, the Crown issued us identification numbers; and to them; the numbers became our wîhowin.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emily Henry is a Cree First Nation Woman from Ochapowace reserve in Canada. She has authored several manuals used for intervention of Aboriginal offenders in federal custody in Canada. She has two Facebook blogs — BalancedLifestylesForKnowledgeSeekers and WalkingTheTalkASacredResponsibility. Both blogs feature traditional teachings designed to create awareness of Indigenous cultural beliefs.